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It is time.
Well, it’s been time for a while. No Time to Die was finally released in most territories in late September and early October, while Australia got it on November 11th. I saw it on the 8th of November at a press screening, got caught up with work, saw it again on my birthday on the 22nd, and now I feel ready to talk about it. That’s okay, right?
No Time to Die is the 25th James Bond film and the final outing for Daniel Craig as the character, having played him in three decades and longer than any actor (yes, Connery was Bond in the 60s, once in the 70s and once in the 80s, but that doesn’t count). Following from the events of Spectre where Bond tries to retire with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), Madeleine’s past still haunts her and interrupts their romantic peace. Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) seeks to regain Spectre’s power even behind bars, but a third villainous party led by Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) seeks to restore balance in the power of the world, and Bond must stop both from destroying everything, while coming to terms with his emotional complications with Madeleine.
Testament to the intentions of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond, No Time to Die seeks to do some brand new things for the character. Similar to Quantum of Solace following Casino Royale, this film takes place mere weeks after Spectre’s ending, with James and Madeleine enjoying being in love and having no obligations. Léa Seydoux’s return marks the first time that a main “Bond girl” has returned for two movies (Eunice Gayson plays Sylvia Trench in Dr. No and From Russia with Love, but only briefly), and Cary Joji Fukunaga and the other writers do a rather excellent job at making her character fit better in James Bond’s life than in Spectre.
Here, you believe their romance and connection, and the film remarkably even begins with a flashback not into any part of Bond’s life but of Madeleine’s. She is a co-protagonist that feels all at once natural and more beneficial to the audience. Too often the “Bond girls” are thrown aside as just another notch on Bond’s belt. The Craig era, starting with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, has tried to improve that ideal. It hasn’t always gotten it right, but thankfully none of the women in Bond’s life in No Time to Die are sacrificial. They each have purpose and autonomy that I, as a self-loathing Bond fan, am thankful for.
Speaking of those other women, there are more than ever here, and they are some of the best characters. Naomie Harris as Moneypenny is always a delight, and I still wish that she would return to the action-heavy role she was first given in Skyfall, but I digress. We are introduced to Lashana Lynch as Nomi, an MI6 “00” agent who is actually given the designation “007” in Bond’s absence, and plays things by-the-book in a delightful juxtaposition to the radical actions of James Bond.
Slowly, she learns how to bend the rules and understand what is right, dominating the screen when it comes to action, commanding our attention when it comes to going up against Bond himself, but still recognises the heart of the man. They never once have some forced romantic moment and we as the audience are all the better for that. And then there’s Ana De Armas as Paloma, a Cuban CIA agent who helps Bond in one major sequence, also dominates the screen with an affable charm and natural strength, delivers the action with aplomb, then leaves with a simple “ciao”. If we could have an Amazon Prime spin-off series with just Lynch’s Nomi and De Armas’ Paloma, I would be over the moon.
But what about Bond, James Bond, himself? Well of course Daniel Craig is excellent in his final film, he’s the best Bond we’ve ever had. Though that may sound sacrilegious to those die-hard fans of Connery, Moore, Dalton, or Brosnan (or Lazenby, for some reason), but Craig has put more energy and effort into trying to make the next film he’s in better than the last one. Again, it hasn’t always worked, with Quantum of Solace being a car crash of a Bond movie and Spectre, though I do like it, not being anyone’s ideal last film, but the ambition is key.
Connery didn’t care by Thunderball, Moore gave up after Moonraker, Dalton needed a better director, and Brosnan was basically one-and-done with GoldenEye. Craig has given us the charm of Sean, the wit of Roger, the darkness of Timothy, and the confidence of Pierce, rolled into a Bond that always goes for more. In No Time to Die, he gives us endless energy in every sequence, a focused determination that we only ever see from Daniel Craig, and thankfully we have an emotional opening of the character that feels utterly welcome.
There is one major element that No Time to Die pulls off that no other Bond film would ever dare to do. Bond leaves Madeleine on a train after a ferocious opening sequence where Blofeld agents ambush the couple, leading to Bond shattering his faith in the woman he could see himself growing old with. Five years then pass, Bond goes into retirement, Spectre resurges but is attacked and virtually wiped out by a biological weapon called Heracles executed by Safin’s agents, Bond is forced to reconnect with Madeleine as she is Blofeld’s only point of contact, accidentally kills Blofeld with Heracles, and finally confronts Madeleine about his true feelings. He confesses his absolute love for her, regret for his shaken faith, and when they have finally reconnected, a little girl appears. Not only have we just had a returning main Bond girl still playing a central role, a new 007, and two competing Bond villains, but James Bond has a daughter. It is at this point that everything changes for the better.
The explosive opening sequences was fun, the moody opening credits scored by Billie Eilish’ titular song were decent, and the Cuba ambush with Bond and Paloma was a thrill-ride, but when we finally realise WHY Daniel Craig wanted to do this film, it becomes so much better. Now, we have a real emotional depth to the character we have only gotten glimpses of, and most of those were in other Daniel Craig Bond films. He has the love of his life and a child to protect, and this is where Rami Malek’s Safin comes in to throw Bond into the most dangerous battle he’s ever faced.
Safin himself is rather underwhelming, with his main revenge against Spectre committed he then randomly sets himself as an “invisible god” who wants to “make the world a better place” by killing millions of people. We’ve seen this motivation before and when he was up against Spectre, Safin was an interesting entity, but when he changes into a traditional Bond villain with a gargantuan island base of operations, it’s less interesting. He’s nowhere near the worst of the series, but seeing as this run of films has given us villains like Le Chiffre and Raoul Silva, it could have been better.
By the end though, it’s as if the villain doesn’t even matter. Bond isn’t fighting Safin just because he’s ordered to, nor because he’s trying to save a girl he just met. Safin’s plot of ultimate destruction is just setting up grander stakes, but the main drive is Bond trying to save the two people in his life he loves most. James Bond, in one final action sequence, changes from some reckless government agent into a human being fighting for love. It might not be exactly what Ian Fleming intended, but it’s the best possible way for the character to evolve for a new decade, even if it is one last time.
That idea of this being Daniel Craig’s last time as the character is something that hung around the production and release of Spectre, and here it is true. For the simplest and most radical reason that as well as giving Bond a daughter, he is able to have a true finale in this incarnation. His fight to defeat the bad guy and save the day comes at a price. He becomes a true hero not because he makes some miraculous escape, but because he doesn’t.
When the ordered is called and the British Navy fires missiles upon Safin’s compound housing his apocalyptic Heracles, Bond tries desperately to open the doors and allow the missiles to hit their target with intended oblivion. But Safin attacks Bond, infects him with the DNA-targeting Heracles, and leaves him to face a choice, escape the doomed base and end up accidentally killing Madeleine and his daughter Mathilde, or let Safin his victory by being the one man who could kill James Bond. As Hans Zimmer’s final track on the score suggests, Bond chooses the latter. A final ascent.
He succeeds in opening the doors and exposing the compound to the incoming missiles, and even while wounded by Safin’s attack, makes one final ascent to the top of the base, confesses his love for Madeleine one last time, tells her that Mathilde is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and sacrifices himself in a sudden fiery end, Zimmer’s score building to a powerful crescendo.
Bond is given tribute by his friends and colleagues, with M (Ralph Fiennes) reading a Jack London quote that Ian Fleming also used for Bond’s temporary obituary in You Only Live Twice:
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.
The film then fittingly ends with Madeleine and Mathilde driving into the sunset, mother telling daughter about the story of a man named “Bond…James Bond”, with Louie Armstrong’s “All the Time in the World” closing the film, one of several touching callbacks to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Cary Joji Fukunaga and the other writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Phoebe-Waller Bridge killed James Bond, and I am so glad they did.
An ending is a beautiful thing. This will not be the last James Bond film, but an true end to this run is a magnificent decision. Because No Time to Die is so final, Fukunaga feels like he set out to make the ultimate Bond film. It’s 2 hours and 43 minutes, far longer than any film in the series, packed to the brim with rollercoaster action sequences, with one stairwell long take standing out as one of Craig’s finest moments, but there is still an overly-complicated plot and an underwhelming villain. Thankfully, there’s also an embracing of gadgets and humour better than any modern Bond film, our returning characters have fresh purpose, with terrific weight given to the finale of Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter, and the new characters are a delight. The production design is spectacular, Linus Sandgren’s 35mm cinematography is gorgeous, and Hans Zimmer’s score is brilliant. No Time to Die isn’t better than Casino Royale or Skyfall, but because of its bold surprises and strong emotional core, it is a beautiful and fitting final act for Daniel Craig, the best James Bond we’ve ever had.
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Writers: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (story by Purvis & Wade, and Fukunaga)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux
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